New fish pass in the River Hull will help endangered eels complete incredible journey

A new eel pass has been constructed to enable critically endangered European eels to access feeding grounds in a UK river before returning to the Atlantic to breed.

A European eel (Pic: SWNS)
A European eel (Pic: SWNS)

The eels – which start their lives off the coast of the USA before migrating to Europe – will now be able to move freely along the River Hull after the completion of the pass at a weir at Tophill Low nature reserve, in East Yorkshire.

Numbers of the species arriving in Europe have fallen by around 95 per cent in the last 40 years, with the decline being attributed to habitat loss, man-made obstacles, disease and climate change.

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The eels can spend years in European rivers before returning to the sea and breeding off the coast of America.

The pass, which is made from an aluminium channel and lined with material to help the fish rise above the obstruction, will help the eels complete this migration, which is essential for their life cycle.

Dr Ben Gillespie, a river resilience specialist at Yorkshire Water, which worked with the Environment Agency, JBA Consulting and Ward and Burke Construction on the joint venture, said: “These creatures have an incredible life cycle – starting off the coast of America, before travelling across the ocean to Europe, where they can spend a number of years, and then making the return journey to spawn.

“Sadly, they are critically endangered but we know there is a population in the River Hull and, by constructing this pumped eel pass at Tophill Low, they will be able to access the upper reaches to feed once more before making their journey back across the Atlantic.”

Pat O’Brien, fisheries specialist at the Environment Agency in East Yorkshire, said the tidal location had presented “a few design challenges” but the river now has a “really good” fish pass solution that will benefit all migratory fish.

He said: “The weir at Tophill Low, also known as Hempholme Weir, is the tidal limit on the River Hull and so very high priority for fish passage, being essentially the front door to the whole river upstream.”